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June 2, 2015 / conservadox

Dvar Torah – Behlotcha

Now that the Jews are done with Sinai, we have left the time of listings of rituals and sacrifices, and entered the long hot summer of action-packed Torah portions.  After the Hebrews complain about food Moses asks God, “Have I conceived all these people? Have I brought them forth…?” (Numbers 6:12).

Rashbam explains that Moses is comparing the people unfavorably to children: while children, despite their diverse views, follow their parents, the Hebrews have lost confidence in Moses.

Coping with diversity continues to be a challenge for today’s rabbis and other Jewish leaders.  This Shabbat I heard an example.  At a self-consciously modern Orthodox shul in my hometown, the rabbi spoke about how modern Orthodox Jews should be more passionate, and said that outside shul and during their summer vacations they should be more careful about pretty much everything (shabbat, kashrut, davening etc) in order to be role models for their children.  This speech was targeted like a laser beam at the median congregant (or maybe the slightly-less-observant than average median congregant): a 30-50 yr old family with children who takes family vacations in places with less Jewish life than my hometown (which has about 100k Jews)

I question whether being told “be as frum as I am” is a winning argument even with this median congregant.  But even if it was, I suspect it wouldn’t engage the not-so-median congregant.  I

Imagine two not-so-median congregants, a fully observant newcomer spending his first weekend in town and a not-so-observant one visiting an Orthodox shul for the first time. If I’m the observant congregant, I listen to this speech and see that  (1) the rabbi is displeased with his congregation and/or (2) the congregation isn’t observant enough for me.  If I’m the not-so-observant newcomer, I see that the rabbi expects every member of his congregation to be 100 percent religious and I feel incredibly uncomfortable and out of place.

So how should the rabbi speak?  I’ve always thought a good rule is: speak in a way that the person coming into an Orthodox synagogue (or Conservative or Reform, for non-Orthodox rabbis) for the first time will understand you.

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